Tag Archives: Networking

Microsoft Small Business Server 2011 — Install Quirks

Well, maybe not quirks exactly, but, there do seem to be a few points of interest.

To review, Microsoft Small Business Server 2011 is a bundled combination of the following:

Windows Server 2008
Microsoft Exchange 2010
Microsoft SharePoint 2010
Microsoft SQL Server 2008

In its usual confusing way, Microsoft can’t offer a single version of this but rather, they have three editions. There is Windows Small Business Server Standard (with the software described above), Windows Small Business Server Essentials (which substitutes cloud versions of SharePoint and Exchange for the bundled server versions that come with Standard). There is also an supplementary Small Business Server Premium Add-On which adds another SQL-Server box for running back-end database applications or web sites. I’ve been working with Standard. This can serve a maximum of 75 users, which I’m sort of assuming means 75 currently connected users, and that you could configure more than that number.

On installation, the SBS server wants to be a DNS server as well as a DHCP server. It is helpful to have the server connected on the LAN, with a working internet connection. If, as in my case, you run a separate DHCP server (the box which doles out IP addresses for workstations as they come online), then you need to disable it temporarily while setting up the SBS machine. Otherwise, SBS will complain and fail to configure its connections to the internet.

Another quirk is that when you first install the operating system everything is installed on drive C: including users shares, Sharepoint folders and Exchange mailboxes. Presumably you’ll want these to reside on a separate set of disks, or partition from the O/S partition, and there is a series of “wizards” that allow you to accomplish this without pain. Once the folders are moved to the data drive or partition, the default new user folders are created in the correct location.

The SBS server must be the top level domain controller in a Windows network. Other Windows servers can be secondary domain controllers but not primary. There is an elaborate multi-page migration methodology which is supposed to allow you to migrate users for SBS 2003 to SBS 2011, however much of the discussion on the technical boards suggests that the migration is a nightmare. So, in the two instances that I’ve been upgrading, I’m starting from scratch. I don’t went to be caught in the middle where the old installation isn’t working and the new one isn’t ready for some unknown or odd reason.

I’m still on the fence as to whether SBS is a good idea. If you’ve already got a POP eMail server going, which has Spam filtering and all the standard features provided by an ISP, managing Exchange on a local server just seems to me to provide an opportunity for additional work and maintenance. It also places all critical applications on a single piece of hardware. On the other hand, Exchange has evolved as a pretty nice calendaring and eMail server, and SharePoint, for those who can use it, works well as an internal knowledge base. SBS includes other tricks, like VPN capability, OutLook web access for accessing your OutLook mailbox from the web, and lots of management wizards which tend to ease some of the burden of maintaining things.

As a practical matter, servers are pretty reliable these days… and you have to go out of your way to practice and rehearse a disaster-recovery scenarios because they just don’t happen that often.

Spicy Server Pix

Shocking! Server Interior Revealed!

Click on the images to see them full size.

Here’s a picture of my new Dell T110 server, with the cover off.

Here’s a little more detail. You can see the two drives mounted on the left hand side, with two conveniently vacant drive bays for a couple additional SATA drives. Upper middle are the four memory slots, each filled with a 2 megabyte chip for a total of eight megabytes. All the black stuff on the right is the shroud covering the heat sink. The unit is absolutely silent.

Finally, here it is in the final configuration. I’ve got an older Maxell external USB 250 megabyte drive as a backup device. The Small Business Server 2011 backup is much improved over Windows backup software that came with earlier Windows server software…almost as good as the Mac Time Machine.

This is the first purpose-bought server that I’ve bought in more than ten years for my business. I had a couple in the nineties. Then for two or three iterations, I’d buy Dell Precision workstations to use as my personal workstation, and then I’d bump them down to be a server. All of these machines have been very reliable. I even used one of the Optiplex GX270 desktops as a production server for more than six months.

Tech Friday: More on Windows Small Business Server 2011

So, after fiddling for a week, I decided to commit, and make the SBS 2011 my real office server, at least for awhile. Amazing how much tweaking is required. Out of the box it doesn’t work out of the box, and despite the presence of numerous wizards and checklists, I find that it requires a fair amount of network knowledge to get things up and running. Ideas:

1. Under the covers, SBS 2011 uses Windows Server 2008, and Microsoft Exchange 2010.

2. In its default state, SBS assumes it will control everything, even unto DHCP. DHCP is usually enabled by default on most routers. It is the function that assigns an internal IP address to each workstation as it comes on the network. I prefer that the function stay with the router, so if the server is off for some reason, workstations can still get a legal IP address to be able to go out on to the internet. For the moment, I’ve acquiesced and given that function to SBS.

3. Since I’m planning to run Exchange, I needed to have a domain assigned to my SBS server. I have a fixed outward facing IP address from Comcast, my internet service provider. I assigned a “third level domain name” to my SBS server. This is often done for individual machines within a domain. So, for example of your company’s domain is kettleprises.com, you mail server might be mail.kettleprises.com, and your sbs server might be sbs.kettleprises.com. Third level domain names do not usually cost extra. I then configured a DNS server on the SBS box using the assigned third-level domain. So far, I haven’t been able to find my domain mapping using nslookup, so I’m a little worried that something is awry.

4. The above is not to be confused with the “windows domain”, which is a single name for the local area network’s SBS machine. I named mine ghq. SBS then translates this to ghq.local which is assigned to the server’s internal ip address.

5. The next issue, is to get the network workstations connected to the server. Before doing that, the help file suggests creating the user accounts on the server. Once you do that, you can go to the individual workstations, and run the web browser, and try to find http://connect. If this is successful, then you’ll see the following screen:

This is only a link to download a “launcher.exe” file which is a script which connects the computer to the network. If there are local user profiles available, it allows you to choose one to migrate to a domain account. (Again, showing essentially that the SBS developers assume that this is the first server of a one-server network, and you would only be migrating local workstation accounts to domain accounts anyway.)

If you can’t bring up the web page, then something is misconfigured, somewhere. It took me several tries to make sure everything was working as expected. I thought the last loose end was the fact that my third level domain name hadn’t propagated yet, but between the time I started writing and the time I’ve finished, it now appears under NSLOOKUP.

Laplink PC Mover migrates Windows Users to new machines

Moving users to new Windows machines is a pain. PC Mover helps automate the process, and it even assists when you are migrating users between Windows versions, such as upgrades from Windows XP to Windows 7.

Despite being lead to believe otherwise, PC Mover does not fully migrate OutLook accounts. Rather it will migrate the account server connection but it does not migrate the OutLook messages. I confirmed this with their technical support people.

You can migrate messages by copying the OutLook.PST file from the old machine to the new machine. I found I had to do this each time I migrated a user from Windows XP to Windows 7 on a new machine. Everything else, however, migrates smoothly. To do this:

1. Make sure the new machine is connected to the network.
2. If you can (or need to) register the computer with the Microsoft Domain Controller (under Control Panel, go to System ->Computer Name, and see that the computer is a member of the domain.
3. Log in to the new computer with the target user’s domain account. This will create a new user profile on the new computer.
4. Log off, and log in again as the Domain Administrator. This will give you rights to perform the migration on the new computer.
5. Install and run PC Mover on the new computer.
6. Log in as an administrator on the old computer.
7. Install PC Mover on the old computer. (I use a thumb drive for this).
8. Run PC Mover on the old computer. It will find the new computer on the network .
9. Choose the user’s domain account on the old computer for migration to the new computer. (This is the reason for step 3 above. Before doing this, I received an error message from PC Mover on the old computer saying that it can’t migrate the domain account. I’m presuming that is because the account didn’t exist on the new computer.)
10. In general, you don’t want to migrate old versions of applications that won’t be used on the new machine. So, these being Dells, I didn’t migrate things like Roxio CD Creator from the old machine to the new one. Also, if you already have applications installed (Office 2007?) on the new machine, you don’t need to migrate the whole application again.

One thing that is helpful is there is a rollback function, so if the migration doesn’t work as expected, you can roll back and try again with different settings.

Tech Friday: Installing Windows Small Business Server 2011

I’ve received  a Dell T110 server, to install here at Microdesign GHQ.  I originally got it with two 250 gigabyte disks, I’ve been fooling around with various images and DVD disks trying several ways of installing it.  Some ideas:

1. SBS 2008 or 2011 requires a minimum of 8 megabytes of RAM, with twelve megabytes recommended for a production server. One reason I broke down and bought new hardware is that I had no recent Windows workstation that I could repurpose that could use more than 4 megabytes of RAM. I tested several candidates using the Crucial on-line tester. Then in desperation I went the Dell web site, and tried there as well. My latest workstation hardware, circa 2005, was too old. 

2. Being a cheapskate, I configured the server with two 250 gigabyte drives, thinking I’d mirror the drives. But it looks like Dell wants 9 megs or so for a utility partition, and that  the Windows installer won’t mirror anything before installation, so the operating system itself will go on a single drive. I’ll configure the second drive for data for starters, and then buy another one to mirror, so that I have mirrored data disks. This is what we ended up doing with the FreeNAS server that we’re using for student data; the O/S is on its own drive. Presumably, if that drive fails, then you could reinstall on a fresh drive, and the data remains intact on its own array. 

The only way around this predicament is to get a RAID controller that does all of the mirroring or RAID in hardware. The controller then “presents” the array as a single drive to the operating system.  

3. The higher RAM requirement also precluded playing with the O/S in a virtual machine… at least with Parallels.  This may be a mixed blessing. Even on dedicated hardware the installation is taking over an hour from DVD. So, in a VM the whole thing would be really slow.

4. Using the technique described last fall  for Windows embedded booting, I’m preparing a USB drive as an alternate boot media, just to see if that works, and if it does if it is any faster. This involves formatting the USB drive, and copying the bootloader files from the Windows setup DVD.

5. The downloaded .iso DVD image for Windows SBS 2011 is larger than the typical 4.7 gigabyte  single-sided DVD. I had to go to Staples and buy double-sided DVDs which hold 8.5 gigs. I never knew they existed, but I’m happy to see that both my Mac Superdrive, and the server DVD reader can read them.

FreeNAS: Automate Drive Mappings for Windows Users

This is the third in a series about FreeNAS, the free network attached storage application which allows you to create an inexpensive but highly capable network file server for backups, iTunes, and general file sharing. Our application is a server for student data. We want to give each student a secure folder in which to store files that they create and use when working in our student computer labs.  The two previous postings are:

Creating a FreeNAS server for student data

Adding students and creating folders 

Note that the first link picks up at the point that the FreeNAS server software has been installed on to server hardware with a minimal configuration. The FreeNAS web site has links to several tutorials as well as the official setup guide.

By the way, FreeNAS installs really nicely within a virtual machine so you can easily test it out. I’ve got it running in Parallels on my MacBook, with software RAID 5 providing redundant disk storage.

Mapping a drive to a student folder

Once I set up the student’s folder and account on the FreeNAS server, I wanted to be able to give them the opportunity to access it from any workstation in our student lab.  The cleanest way I could think of was to create an icon on the desktop which runs a script. The script does the following:
1. Asks for the student login name
2. Asks for the student’s password
3. Maps the H: drive to the student’s folder on the FreeNAS server.

Student folders are named exactly the same as the student login, and they all appear under a shared folder called “StudentData”.  The full path is /mnt/StudentData/.  So, when student Myron Kapoodle logs in with his user name mkapoodle, the script takes him to: 

/mnt/StudentData/mkapoodle

Thus, when the student accesses drive H:, they find themselves in their own folder. They can’t select a folder “above” their own, and they can’t access anyone else’s folder, even if they can see it when browsing around the network neighborhood.

The Script

' VBScript to map a network drive.
' Heavily borrowed from ....
' Guy Thomas http://computerperformance.co.uk/
' Larry Keyes http://www.techfornonprofits.com
' ------------------------------------------------------'
Option Explicit
Dim strDriveLetter, strRemotePath, strUser, strPassword
Dim objNetwork, objShell, objFSO
Dim CheckDrive, AlreadyConnected, intDrive
strUser=""
strPassword=""

' This section gets the name and password
strUser=InputBox("Enter your User Name")
strPassword=InputBox("Enter your Password")

' The section sets the variables.
strDriveLetter = "H:"
strRemotePath = "\\freenas\StudentData\" & strUser

' This sections creates two objects:
' objShell and objNetwork and counts the drives
Set objShell = WScript.CreateObject("WScript.Shell")
Set objNetwork = WScript.CreateObject("WScript.Network")
Set objFSO = WScript.CreateObject("Scripting.FileSystemObject")
Set CheckDrive = objNetwork.EnumNetworkDrives()

If objFSO.DriveExists(strDriveLetter) Then
objShell.Popup "The H: Drive is already mapped"
objNetwork.RemoveNetworkDrive strDriveLetter
strRemotePath = "\\freenas\StudentData\" & strUser
objNetwork.MapNetworkDrive strDriveLetter, strRemotePath , false, strUser, strPassword
Else
strRemotePath = "\\freenas\StudentData\" & strUser
objNetwork.MapNetworkDrive strDriveLetter, strRemotePath , false, strUser, strPassword
End if

'Section which actually (re)names the Mapped Drive to eliminate naming problem.
Set objShell = CreateObject("Shell.Application")
objShell.NameSpace(strDriveLetter & "\").Self.Name = strUser
Wscript.Echo "Check : "& strDriveLetter & " for " & strUser
WScript.Quit

There is some extra stuff in there that attempts to fix an issue that appeared in Windows 7, where if the drive mapping is reused, it shows up with the name of the previous user.

Our student workstations have a single “student” local account.  Every student logs in to that account when they use the workstation. There are no individual user profiles. In some cases I have the student account log in automatically, and I’ll probably do this on all machines that use the FreeNAS network so that a student doesn’t have to log in twice…once to the desktop and once with their own user name and password on the FreeNAS server.

This script should be installed on each Windows workstation, with a desktop icon to appear on the desktop of the student account.

Two other observations and questions:

1. Obviously you can simply map a drive from the command line using Start->Run->CMD, and then at the prompt  type MAP H: /freeNAS/StudentData/mkapoodle.

2. I searched all over for a more elegant way to have a screen that came up that would ask for the name and password and then make the call to create the drive mapping. First I looked at C#, then, because Visual Basic has a “shell” command, I switched to VB. However that required a full-blown Windows installation of the .exe file, as well as a batch file which was called by the VB program. I finally decided I could live with two windows popping up; one asking for the name and another for the password.

Twittering for Non-Profits

Much fiddling with Twitter. One thing that is great about Twitter is that it more or less seems to pass the five minute test. Two resources to help get past Initial Euphoria, and move to Potential Productivity include O’Reilly’s The Twitter Book.

There is also a pretty good on-line guide at FastForward,, albeit with a more corporate orientation. I admit that I cringe when I see tweets like “Insurance industry finds value in social media”. Oh goody. But there is a lot of provocative theory there which suggests why Twitter might be a great way to leverage awareness of your non-profit “brand”.

One thing that makes Twitter so cool is that they published their application programming interface (API) early on, thereby enabling third-party programmers to cook up all manner of search and ranking tools that can sample and mine the tweet stream. This is a terrific example of a company who took a simple idea, maintained control of the idea, and yet allowed others to add value to it. And Twitter the company was recently valued at 1 billion dollars. Not bad for a company with no revenue yet.

Here are several Twitter search tools… mostly shamelessly cribbed from The Twitter Book

What The Trend http://whatthetrend.com
Twitscoop http://twitscoop.com
Twopular http://twopular.com
Twitters own Advanced Search found as a link near the search box on the normal twitter search page.

For some examples of what non-profits are doing with Twitter, there is a discussion on Mashable. Other comments and ideas are on Beth Kanter’s blog,”How Non-Profits Can Use Social Media”

Cloud Computing Redux

A year or so ago I railed against the cloud. Or rather, I railed against the paid cloud. Notwithstanding the fact that even then I was already paying for the cloud.

The subject came up during the Freedom To Connect conference. We were sitting around having lunch, several pretty hard-core networking types and somebody was grousing about cloud computing. “It’s not secure!” “It’s slow!” “What if you’re not connected to the Internet?”, (this at a conference of which the entire point was being connected all the time at ultra-high speed). But, I’m Cloud-Boy.

web site hosted at my ISP
eMail hosted at my ISP
virtual disk iDisk hosted at MobileMe
project management BaseCamp
time cards Harvest
Calendar Google Calendar
RSS reader Google Reader
word processing Google Docs (occasionally)
invoicing QuickBooks via eMail

Then there are the mandatory online applications when dealing with the federal government:

  • Employee withholding and tax payments
  • Applying for federal grants at Grants.Gov
  • NIH Commons for managing those grants once you’ve got them.
  • Electronic Funds System for drawing down funds.

Unfortunately, our state of Vermont is far behind… they actually require paper for virtually every step of the grant application and management function. Hmm….I wonder if you can file for a gay marriage license online?

I guess the point is that you’d be nuts not to take advantage of some hosted applications, and even if you are dead set against the cloud, you might be using something in the cloud and barely realizing it.

As usual, the MobileMe suite of applications from Apple have a little extra. Theoretically at least, you can sync your Safari links, and dashboard applications. (I still can’t get the dashboard apps quite right). The iDisk is effective in that it essentially mirrors one or more folders that are present on a particular machine, my desktop iMac for example, and replicates that disk to one or more other machines. (can work for Windows too…although I haven’t tried it. ) The neat thing about the iDisk though is that there is still a local copy of the folders on each machine. This unloads many of the objections to Cloud Computing…the notion that if you aren’t connected, you don’t have access to your files. True disk transfer happens at “FTP” speeds, so sometimes it takes awhile to sync with the cloud.

Freedom to Connect — Manifesto

I’m beginning to figure out that Freedom To Connect is a conference of people who espouse the following principals (with reservations by some).

1. Just as we first served homes with copper wire for electricity, and then copper wire for telephone service, we are now at an historical juncture where we should serve homes with fiber optic cable. It will actually cost less than either of the first two, because the poles and infrastructure are already in place for putting fiber into homes. Applications that would be supported by fiber include (but are by no means limited) to:

  • The Smart Grid, or “infotricity” a two-way connection between the power company and home appliances, water heater, air conditioners, and furnace that would automatically smooth demand for electric power throughout the day. This would result in a projected saving of 25% of the current base power load and eliminate the need for new coal and nuclear power plants.
  • “Triple Play”, cable TV, telephone and high-speed internet service.
  • Telemedicine, Telehealth and Distance Learning applications via two-way interactive multipoint videoconferencing
  • Security monitoring
  • Tele-Presence — viewing a neighbor or relative (located next door or across the globe) in their home to share photos, stories, grandchildren, whatever.
  • etc. ad. infinitum.

2. The notion that wireless technology is somehow a substitute for FTTH should be disabused. It is a necessary and desirable supplement, but not a replacement for FTTH.

3. Many believe wireless is actually twice as expensive to install and manage rather than fiber for the following reasons:
a. Wireless towers and transmitters still must be served by a fiber connection. (“backhaul”)
b. Wireless requires substantial density to provide effective coverage.
c. Wireless is subject to interference, (leaves, weather, etc).
d. Wireless technology is volatile and becomes obsolete quickly.

4. There are many definitions of “under-served” populations. However, DSL technology with something like 320KB up and 1.5 megabits down does NOT constitute “broadband” in any meaningful sense, nonwithstanding that it is an improvement over dialup.

5. A working definition of broadband would be, at a minimum symmetrical speeds of, say, 20 megabits, (both directions), at the equivalent of $60.00 per month or less.

6. Under lobbying pressure (corruption? payoffs?) no less than 15 states in the U.S. have actually passed laws that prohibit municipalities or citizen groups from creating and forming their own broadband utilities. Examples cited in our meeting this week (Lafayette LA, and Glagsgow KN), described debilitating litigation initiated by incumbent phone and cable companies to shut down efforts to provide muni wireless and fiber networks. After the dust settled, the incumbents reduced their rates by three quarters when they had to compete with the municipality. So, unfortunately, incumbents must be seen as the enemy, until proven otherwise.

======================

Personally, I think this has parallels with other current battles.

  • We can’t have single payer healthcare because it would hurt the insurance companies.
  • We can’t have high-speed broadband, because it would hurt the incumbent cable and telephone companies.
  • We can’t have realistic fuel-economy standards because it will hurt the car companies.
  • We can’t get loans, because the banks won’t lend any of their multi-million dollar bailout money.
  • We can’t have affordable higher education, because it would hurt the educational institutions (and the athletic programs).
  • We can’t find out who is responsible for the policies of torture and rendition, because it would “damage” our government’s credibility and reputation.

Oh well. Might as well go back to watching television.

Freedom to Connect – Day 1

Free to Connect (F2C) is being held at the American Film Institute’s Silver theater in Silver Spring Maryland, a suburb of Washington DC It is an exemplary demonstration of how to hold a no-frills conference… skeleton (but highly competent) conference crew, judicious outsourcing of food and reception, in a compact venue which offers lots of opportunities to meet the other attendees and presenters. The presentations are being streamed on the web, and there is an interactive Campfire chat which is projected next to the PowerPoint slides and which can be monitored by the speakers so that questions can be taken from outside the conference. As might be expected, the interactive chat is a mixture of serious comments and snark. Its a little disconcerting to type and see your comment projected full screen twenty seconds later.

About 250 participants. We were invited to bring our wireless laptops, and looking at the audience during my own presentation it seemed that well over 70% of the audience machines were Macs. We used my own Macbook for my presentation and the colleagues in our session; two were PowerPoint presentations that we ran in Keynote after listened to catcalls as Parallels tried to boot up Vista. Balance seems to be a mixture of Dells, IBM/Lenovo and a few netbooks. Acer Aspire, etc.

David Weinberger is live-blogging.

Session 2: Net politics and other applications
Ellen Miller, Sunlight Foundation,
Nathaniel James, Media and Democracy Coalition,
Larry Keyes, Telehealth via Broadband, and
Eva Sollberger, Stuck in Vermont Video Blog

4th set of presentations. Chris Savage is a lawyer, had a really interesting talk about the death of the Chicago School and how right now there is a unique opportunity to retool regulation to make it more consumer friendly.

Derek Slater – Google policy analyst. Talking about “Measurement Lab” an open platform for researchers to make measurements of internet bandwidth and for consumers to figure out what their internet speed is. There is so much we don’t know how the internet is performing. Could we fund some servers at the University that would host the Measurement Lab applications?

John Peha – FCC chief technologist. Mythology of Rural Broadband
1 in 3 households do not have access to wired broadband at any price.
Broadband has positive benefits for communities who have it, even for members of those communities who don’t subscribe.

Unserved communities don’t gain from broadband, and broadband installed elsewhere can actually degrade things in unserved communities.

Comment: Government should write the rules so that it easier to do the right thing than the wrong thing.

Technology neutrality is something to aim at.

The people who are comfortable with technology are the non-engineers they just use what works.

Comment: Technology neutrality is a false mantra.

Amy Wohl — “recovering Chicago School economist.” When govt. attempts to fix mistakes by the market there is a lag.


The conference takes place on Monday and Tuesday. I arrived Saturday afternoon at Reagan airport and took the Metro to Silver Spring. Sunday, I ran around the mall. The Holocaust museum was jammed with school groups. I didn’t quite know what to expect, I rather thought it would be like going to a cathedral in Europe, but it was more like the science museum. To get to the regular part of the exhibits you have to get a ticket and you are assigned a time. Because of the crowds mine wasn’t until two hours later. I spent 90 minutes on the lower level looking at an exhibit of Nazi propaganda, and after that, I was done. Why people bring small children to this museum is beyond me.

I also went to the Native American museum, (outstanding kayaks) and the National Gallery. The Smithsonian museums are truly a national treasure..and they are all free.